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In Acts 15:19-29, were the Apostles of The Jerusalem Council acting in accordance with the Law of Moses, where each violation of the Torah equated to a "cutting off" of the community? Further, aren't three of the four dietary restrictions?

The Four detailed prohibitions (Acts 15:19) are:

  1. That they abstain from foods sacrificed to idols (dietary), as described in Leviticus 17:7-9. Note Leviticus specifically addresses the alien (Heb. Ger) shall be "cut off".
  2. That they abstain from fornication, which is associated with Idolatry. (ref. Leviticus 18:26, 29). Here too both the native and the alien are addressed (vs 26), violations of such equate to a "cutting off" (vs. 29) removal from the Covenant.
  3. That they abstain from consuming blood (Dietary, ref. Lev. 17:10-12). Verse 10 specifically states that both Native Israelites and Aliens who consume blood will be "cut off".
  4. That they abstain from eating foods strangled. (Dietary, ref. Leviticus 17:12-14) The Torah specifically instructs the community to pour out the blood and cover it with earth which is not done in slaughters performed by strangulation. Note once again that those who do such are "cut off" - ref. vs. 14 Is this practice not associated with the idolatry of the surrounding nations and religion according to Leviticus 18:24-25?

If the apostles are not standing upon the authority of the Law of Moses, being led by the Holy Spirit, where did they derive such an arbitrary set of conditions for new believers to enter the synagogue (vs. 21)?

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  • I don't think this is strictly a "duplicate question", but I think it is answered by my answer to How have mainstream Christian denominations interpreted the Acts command to abstain from blood? Nov 13, 2023 at 4:30
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    You assert a 'set of conditions for new believers to enter the synagogue'. Where do you get that idea from ? It is not in the text. The proscription of the apostles is in regard to Christians gathering together. It is nothing to do with the synagogue.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 13, 2023 at 7:31
  • Nigel, humbly, perhaps we overlook verse 21: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” ALL Scripture being inspired, isn't the inference here that new believers are directed towards the synagogue? I find this cohesive with the majority of The New Testament. Several of the Apostolic writings show the continued practice of meeting in the synagogue in the same manner as He himself walked. Reference: Luke 4:16, Acts 17:1-2, 1 Jo. 2:6, Rom. 1:16, Especially Acts 19:8 et al. Nov 14, 2023 at 13:57
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    That is a misrepresentation of the textual content. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: . . . . For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. The two are a contrast 1. Gentiles turned to God 2. Moses preached in synagogues. You quite clearly have an agenda and you are misrepresenting James's words to assert your agenda. Question down-voted -1.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 14, 2023 at 22:51
  • Accommodate There is a difference between "capitulation" to observing the old Mosaic Law, on the one hand, and the "accommodation" of customary observances in order to facilitate fellowship and harmony between saints, on the other hand. The Apostles were not leaning on the Law, but helping new converts live beyond the Law...since the Law was a schoolmaster to lead us all to Christ.
    – ray grant
    Nov 30, 2023 at 21:52

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Once the context of this four-fold prohibition to Gentile believers in Jesus has been examined carefully, then the (unarguable) matter of all four prohibitions originally arising in the Torah (Law) of Moses can be assessed for its significance.

First is the matter of new Gentile believers in Jesus attending synagogues, as did their Jewish brothers and sisters, until the synagogues closed their doors to all Christians. When that began to happen is unlikely to have a specific start-date; it may have been patchy at first, then became universal (Paul speaks of experiencing something of that). But while the first Christians (who were Jews, or proselytes, also circumcised) frequented synagogues, hoping to have opportunities to show the Jews that Christ was their expected Messiah, Gentile converts to Christ were in a different category. They had not been circumcised. This was what triggered the Big Debate back then - some Jewish Christians said they ought to be circumcised and so keep the Law of Moses. But the Apostles realised that if they didn't swiftly stand up against such an idea, the new Gentile converts to Christ would lose their new-found freedom in Christ - that Christ would have died to no avail for them, for they would then become bound to a legalistic system - Judaism.

However, they also knew that "Moses from former generations in every city hath those preaching him - in the synagogues every sabbath being read." (Acts 15:21 N.L.T.) They knew that this was a delicate time for keeping the balance right between Jews and Christians. While the door to the synagogues were still open to them, they wanted to keep reaching out to Jews with the good news about Jesus. But if Jews saw Gentile converts doing things that offended them, they would take offense at Christianity, no matter that Jewish Christians never did offensive things - particularly those four prohibitions - eating meat that had first been offered to idols by the pagan meat-sellers; fornication; eating (or drinking) blood; eating meat of an animal that had been strangled and not bled (the kosher way). It should also be said that the more general prohibition given to Gentile converts to Christ - "to abstain from blood" would include blood-guiltiness such as with murder.

Yet Acts chapter 15 starts off with warning about certain Jewish Christians from Judea coming along to insist that Gentile converts to Christ be circumcised. That was the issue that resulted in the four prohibitions. The apostles concluded that the Gentile converts to Christ had just as much of the Holy Spirit as they had - already. They had been purified by faith - already. Indeed, they were already saved! So what on earth was the point in then getting circumcised? All that would do would oblige them to then keep the entire Mosaic Law, which never saved anybody!

Now it becomes clear that the four prohibitions highlighted in Acts 15 had nothing to do with new converts to Christ observing the whole Mosaic Law. It was to help enable the mixing of Christians with Jews, without stumbling the Jews over those four highly offensive matters. If they could see even Gentile Christians respecting Jewish sensibilities on those four important matters, they would perhaps listen to their testimony about Christ. On the other hand, if they saw Gentile Christians acting just like the pagans in those four ways, they would dismiss Christianity instantly, and never give the gospel a hearing.

Conclusion: Yes, the Four Prohibitions came directly from the Torah (Law) of Moses. Yet this was not about Gentile converts gaining access to the synagogues, for they would have to be circumcised for that privilege. This was about Gentile converts who had come to Christ not being ensnared into legalism if they became circumcised. This was about continuing to reach out to Jews with the gospel by not offending them with behaviour they associated with pagan ungodliness. Gentile converts to Christ just needed to be clear of any charges in those four respects; they did not need to be circumcised.

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There is a clear indication that the leaders of the Jerusalem church were very much concerned to protect the community from accusations of non-conformity with the Torah. This is found in Acts 21:20-21.

Brother, you see how many thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous observers of the law. They have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe their customary practices.

The OP is correct to say that each of the sins it mentions was considered serious enough to involve being "cut off." But this does not adequately account for the decision of the Jerusalem Council. If being cut off were the standard, then the council would have required that Gentile believers be circumcised.

Genesis 17:14

If a male is uncircumcised, that is, if the flesh of his foreskin has not been cut away, such a one will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.

One other point: the prohibition of fornication probably did not imply idolatry. 1 Cor 5-6 indicates a serious concern on Paul's part that his "gospel of freedom" has been badly misunderstood. He discusses a case of incest in chapter 5. Then, in 1 Cor. 6:9, Paul makes a clear distinction between "fornicators and idolaters." He feels compelled to clarify that his gospel of freedom from the law does not equate to sexual license:

1 Cor. 6

12 “Everything is lawful for me,” but not everything is beneficial... 15 Shall I then take Christ’s members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not!

If Paul himself was concerned about the misapplication of his doctrine of salvation by grace vs. law, the Jerusalem church would definitely have wanted to ensure that Gentile Christianity would not become a hotbed of promiscuity.

Conclusion: Yes, the decision of Acts 15:19-29 was based upon the Torah of Moses, but the decision to allow Gentiles to remain uncircumcised shows that being "cut of from the people" could not have been the determining standard of which laws were crucial. Moreover, the rule against fornication probably had to do with rumors of simple sexual immorality in the Gentile churches, rather than fornication associated idolatry.

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Some will argue the source of the Acts 15 laws is Leviticus, like the OP. Others will argue they source to the Noahide Laws in Genesis 15. Others will argue they source to the Book of Jubilees. Others will argue they were created about the time we hear of them in Acts 15.

The reason it can't be Leviticus is because of the cherry-picking. Moses is read in the synagogue, why just four laws, why not the 10 commandments? Why not find them in Genesis 15? Like the Book of Jubilees, there are some similarities, but not the number of only four. Thus, we are left with the idea that the Jerusalem Council created them.

So, to directly answer the OP question, were the four prohibitions "based on" Leviticus, not really. There is no proof. The Jerusalem Council may have picked the most offensive laws, but it appears the restrictions source solely and directly to those in the Council.

To take a closer look at the reasoning, we know the Jerusalem Council was about the question of how one is saved. It was not about "being clean" or "entering the place of worship".

And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. Acts 15:1

By the time they assemble in Jerusalem, the answer was expanded to include circumcision and observing the whole of the Mosaic Law.

But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. Acts 15:5

The discussion no doubt was lively and loud. Peter stands and speaks finally into the respectful silence.

And [God] put no difference between us [Israelites] and them [Gentiles], purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? Acts 15:9-10

Peter tells the truth. No one can 100% follow the Mosaic Law. Yet, the Law says that if you follow every command, you will be righteous.

And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us. Deut 6:25

But again, no one succeeds, hence the sacrificial laws must be perfectly followed also. Peter and the others understand. Peter provides the way out of condemnation.

But we [Israelites] believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they [Gentiles]. Acts 15:11

So, the question of how to be saved, declared righteous, has been answered. Yet, not all can quite believe. James, the Lord's brother, takes over.

Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:

Wow. James puts the yoke back on the Israelites. But for Gentiles, it's a lighter yoke, there are only four laws needed to make one righteous.

But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. Acts 15:20

There they are. What's the source? They claim themselves and the Holy Spirit.

For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; Acts 15:28

Why four? We don't know, but Moses is important.

For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

Rabbis preach Moses' way of righteousness in every synagogue every Sabbath. You get a feeling that if they can do 613 laws, certainly you can do 4.

So, they draft a letter and send the disciples with the message.

That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. Acts 15:29

In short, Acts 15 was about the question how to be saved (righteous before God). They answer the question; that is, saved by grace apart from works. The only reason to observe the four laws is to respect the Rabbis who preach Moses. They would add nothing to salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

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